image caption: Gurmukh Singh and other image of Afgan women protesting

Plight of Afghan Sikhs as the Taliban Return to Power

       Afghanistan is now in the hands of the Taliban. Sikhs and other non-Muslim communities in the country fear that they will face the same harsh conditions in the country as during the last Taliban regime 20 years ago. They ruled the country by harsh interpretation of the Sharia Law while there are ongoing debates even amongst Muslims whether Sharia Law is compatible with modern human rights and freedom of thought.

Due to accusations of Islamophobia, it needs to be stressed that interpretation of Sharia in modern times is hotly disputed between modern Muslims and the fundamentalists. There appears to be a division even in the Taliban ranks. Their &ldquopolicy&rdquo as announced by the Taliban spokesman is not the same as ground realities for women and the minorities. Sharia law cannot be altered but some flexibility is allowed in its interpretation. If applied strictly, then Sharia law treats women much more harshly than men and there are many examples of such interpretation regarding education, matrimonial rights, testimony, rape, adultery and treatment of women by men.

Non-Muslims do not have the same rights as Muslims. My joint study with late S. Gurbachan Singh Sidhu (Sikh Religion and Islam) gives more information under traditional religious headings. It must be stressed that the above depends on moderate or strict interpretation and many Islamic countries today opt for moderation. Generally, however, minorities like the Sikhs do not feel safe in such regimes.

In early 2013, a young Afghan Sikh, Pritpal Singh, who had left Afghanistan with his family as a child,  set out from the UK to document the suffering of fellow Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan.  The film &ldquoMission Afghanisan&rdquo portrayed the life and hardships of minorities in War-torn Afghanistan. Those who could afford it, left the country.  Those left behind have hardly any means of support. They have no present and no future.

I wrote at the time, &ldquoToday, there is fear and desperation in their empty eyes.  They have no livelihood and no work and their growing children receive no education.  Their daughters do not have much hope of finding suitable matches and they are not certain where the next meal would come from.  Many women and children live in gurdwaras relying on Sangat&rsquos langar seva.  These are Sikh women with children, widows and families left behind in a war-riven Afghanistan.  Together with the Hindu community, their numbers are dwindling, as they live from day to day in many towns in Afghanistan.  The situation of women is made worse because this is an Islamic country where women are confined to walled enclosures and cannot go out to work.&rdquo (my article on Sikhnet of 21 January 2013)

The situation is so bad that the Hindus and Sikhs cannot even dispose off their dead with dignity.  &ldquoCremations are done with stealth in fading light and away from the sight of local Muslim communities.  They try not to attract attention and arrive for cremations in small groups. Often stones are thrown at them by jeering locals who called them &ldquoHindu&rdquo.  Gurdwaras of great historical significance are in a state neglect and disrepair. Despite deputations to Delhi, the Indian Government has not responded.&rdquo

We hope Indian and Western governments and Sikh charities will come to their aid.

Gurmukh Singh